January 2009


Beginning prayer for the evening – Set us free, O God, from the bondage of our sins, and give us the liberty of that abundant life which You have made known to us in Your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

Readings:

“I am” Statements – bread of life, light of the world, good shepherd, resurrection and the life, the way the truth and the life, the true vine…there are probably more, but we will focus on these.

“If” statements – we may also look at the “if” statements that other people said to Jesus (ie. “if you are the Christ”, “if you are the Son of God”) and how He responded to them.

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Epiphany is hard!!  It is truly “ordinary time”.  It is the time in which I have to do the mundane, the repetative and the miniscule.  It is in the mid-life of winter so all around me is barren, cold, hibernating.  Yet when I turn my face toward the homes on my street and there is the warm glow of incandescent light cascading from the windows.  The smoke of a chimney gives evidence to a warmth and a gathering happening inside.  Where nature denies it, these man-made structures proclaim life, movement and growth.

Perhaps as I live Epiphany, this is where I must turn – inside my home.  I cannot tend a garden right now, but perhaps I am to sow seeds inside my dwelling place.  Perhaps I am to sow them in the unseemingly rich soil of the mundane, the repetitive and the miniscule moments of marriage and motherhood.

Epiphany isn’t just hard, it is boring!  But perhaps it sheds light on my heart’s desire to always be entertained or in a state of “experience”.  There are no grand celebrations to prepare for, just the very present here and now of a nightly family meal.  There are no “silent nights” or Ash Wednesdays, just average days that slip by the world’s notice – save that of three people (husband, daughter, son).  There is no special music written for this season except the long monotonous note of remaining faithful in the little things.

No doubt Epiphany living is hard.  It brings me face to face with the reality and work of life.  It offers no excitement, spiritual “experience”, or even pleasure.  What it does offer though is a time to mature, to remain faithful to my calling and to still live intentionally when feelings fail me.  It also gives me a  time to live presently – not reminising about past seasons or preparing for the next.  I am to be HERE – immersed in each moment (no matter how boring it feels!) and presenting each action to God, asking Him to “establish Thou the work of my hands”.

Since the season of Epiphany is a season of growth and discipleship and work, we have really tried to focus on connecting with our kids in areas of spiritual formation and discipleship.  Now, around our house this may not take the typical form of a “bible study”, but may involve rock climbing, conversations in the car and most likely, Starbucks.

My daughter and I have started having a Tuesday night “Starbucks date” while my husband and son go rock climbing.  I have enjoyed this hour or so of conversation with my 11 year old.  We usually read through Psalm together and then talk about “stuff”, as the Spirit leads.  This last week, I was blown away by her insightfulness and, as I took it to heart, I was schooled by my daughter.

She had picked the psalm for the evening – psalm 100 (probably because it was short!)  As we read through it, her Bible had a reference to John 10 from “we are His people and the sheep of His pasture”.  So we decided to follow the reference.

After we read John 10, I asked her what she thought about it and here is what she said:

“I guess it is a little confusing because Jesus calls Himself the gate and the shepherd….(pause)…but maybe He needs to be both, Mom.  Maybe He is the Shepherd who leads us to the Gate and then He opens the door for us to come in to life with Him.  (Another pause)…and I guess what the sheep need to do is listen really well to hear His voice and then go in the direction He says.”

wanderer

So I asked her how we could know if we are listening to His voice or not.  She responded, “Well…I know that He wants me to obey, but I also think my heart wants to wander off on its own.  It’s kinda like when I even think I’m going to hear His voice and I just want to do my own thing – then I wander off, thinking He can’t find me or else I just ignore Him.”

Now for some this may be “no duh!”, but to hear my 11 year old articulate our propensity to hide from God and then God being the shepherd who finds us and leads us to Himself AND then is the very Door unto Life…I was amazed.  I was struck again by the grace of a God who found me in my inability to find Him (even if I had wanted to find Him) and lead me in my wandering to Himself.  And I was filled with the overwhelming joy that the same Shepherd who has guided me thus far, has found my beautiful child and is allowing her glimpses into His very heart.

O God, thank you for the precious gift of this conversation with my daughter.  I see You pursuing her and teaching her to hear Your voice.  Teach me also, to hear You better and better and to confess as quickly when I begin to wander.

Opening prayer:  Almighty and everlasting God, You govern all things both in heaven and on earth; Mercifully hear the supplications of your people and in our time grant us Your peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Readings:

John the Baptist Murdered

Feeding of the Five Thousand

Bread of Life discourse

Walking on the Water

Prayer Focus:  this week our family will spend time praying for God’s peace around the world – particularily in the Middle East. O Lord, bring Your peace to that region of the world and allow Your people – the church – to do works of justice and healing in Your name and for Your glory!

Yikes!!  It is already Tuesday…time got away from me this past week.  Anyway, here is the opening prayer for the week:

Give us grace, O Lord, to answer readily the call of our Savior Jesus Christ and proclaim to all people the Good News of His salvation, that we adn the whole world may perceive the glory of His marvelous works; who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Readings for this week:

Jesus with the woman at the well

The Sermon on the Mount (we’ll spend most of the week on this).

Kingdom Parables (and powerful actions demonstrating them)

So, I have this theory that the temptation of Jesus wasn’t just about seeing if He would succumb to the pressure of what his flesh really wanted, but it was also a re-enactment of an acient temptation of the Israelites out in the wilderness.  Where the children of God failed, Jesus succeeds and begins to rewrite the story.  Here is my version of the temptation (in story form)…

He had just heard God’s audible voice and was bathed in the realization of God’s immeasurable delight, pleasure and love.  While clear, cool waters of baptism ran off His flesh, the resounding words of the Father cascaed over Him in a waterfall of love.  “You are My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased…”

But now He was somewhere altogether different.  Dust, dirt, rock, sand – elements of earth – now surrounded Him.  A landscape eroded by harsh winds and battering rains – the wilderness.  And He came.  Willingly led into it.

He knew He was geting ready for a test; a test that would require all of His mind, heart and strength.  A test to show the harsh reality of living on this planet.  A test to change the story of humanity.

Consequently, to gather strength, to muster courage, He emptied Himself.  He fasted.  He did not listen to His appetite and instead embraced hunger.  Deep and thorough hunger was needed to prepare for this Test.

After 40 days – weak, so thin, weathered by the elements, in a state of extreme hunger – He looked up to see His opponent.

Disguised as beauty itself, the opponent was strong and handsome.  His skin was plump – a sign that he lacked nothing at all.  His clothing was a gloriously rich shining fabric with no trace of soil to be found.  The One in whom God delighted was a pitiful stench of a mess juxtaposed to His enemy.

With a look of scorn and a sweet smirk of victory, the opponent came over with a basket of rocks.  He picked one up, opened his mouth wide and took a huge bite.  The aroma of freshly baked bread filled the wilderness.  “Since you are God’s Son, take care of what You need.  I can tell you hunger.  Say it and these stones will turn into a feast fit for a king.”

Pangs of hunger roared through His empty belly and the aroma of sweet delicacies caused His mouth to salivate.  But something else spoke deeper and louder than the cries of His human flesh.   A story – beginning small then emerging to stand face to feace with the present ideology.

You see, this opponent had tried this before – generations ago – and had won.  The people had listened to their appetites rather than God.  In light of their overwhelming hunger, they had questioned whether God would give them what they needed.

“No”, said the Hungry One.  “Life is far greater than fulfilling all whims of appetite and rumblings of hunger at hand.  It takes a steady stream of words from God’s mouth to satisfy true and deep hunger and to really live.  Full bellies are not what is most needed – God is.”

And this new story devoured the old.

The opponents eyes were filled momentarily with hate and contempt.  The another sly grin crossed his face as he led this One to the Temple in the Holy City.  “Since you are God’s Son, why don’t you show me what you’ve got.  This Temple shows God’s majesty…show me how spectacular You are.  JUMP”, he said with dripping sarcasm.  “After all, surely You know the scriptures, don’t You?  He has placed you in the care of angels.  They will catch you so that you won’t so much as stub your toe on a stone.”

The Weak One’s eyes flashed a holy anger.  He who had created this opponent was now being challenged by him?  He could show him more than a jump!  But then, in Him rose another story – a story of another people in another wilderness.  His mind reviewed the words of Exodus when those people, fueled by hunger and thirst, had quarreled against teh Almighty at Massah.  “Is the Lord among us or not?”  Then His thoughts traveled to a psalm reminding Him, “As in the day at Massah in the wilderness when your fathers tested Me, they tried Me, though they had seen My work…”

Quietly, from the depths of His heart came words learned and recited from boyhood on.  This confrontation would not repeat that ancient story but usher in a new one.  With a firm and confident look at His opponent, He made sure this place would not be a place of testing or quarreling but of trust.  “Don’t you dare test Yahweh your God”, was His response.

His opponent raged!!  His storytelling skills had no power over this hungry, weak One.  Then in a flash, the opponent took Him to the peak of a huge mountain and a new strategy emerged.  Gesturing expansively, pointing out all the earth’s kingdoms and how glorious they all were, he spoke.  “Do you see all these?  Look at the glory and riches in them.  Look at the people.  And they are yours – all of them – right now, if….” he paused.  “If you just go down on your knees and worship me.  I will give them all to you.”

The offer of power was intoxicating and filled this Hungry One with a sense of fullness that He had not felt in 40 days.  To have all these kingdoms and their people without effort or pain was the story pulsating through Him.

But once again, a quiet story began to churn in Him.  It encountered this story of power and glory with two whispering words – trust….love.  He closed His eyes and listened to those words until their quiet whispers roared louder than the screaming false story and those words – trust…love…trust…love – resonated in every memebrane, cell and muscle in His body.

His eyes shot open and with power and dignity trapped the gaze of His enemy.  His refusal was crisp.  “Get out of here, Satan!”  Those words seemed to reverberate across the wilderness.  Like a pebble dropped into still water, His words moved out from around Him and with each breath in the silence, moved out in concentric circles and washed over creation, seeming to change it.

“Worship the Lord your God and only Him.  Serve Him with absolute singleheartedness.”

The new story moved out from Him and squeezed out His enemy’s story – pushing it to the outer edge of the universe.

The test was over.  His enemy could not stand to live in this storyteller’s tale.  He left, and in his place came angels who came and looked after Jesus’ needs.

In reading the accounts of the baptism and temptation, I had a couple of thoughts…

As Jesus comes up out of the water, He hears from the Father.  “You are my beloved Son, in whom I have delighted”.  This is a quote straight out of Psalm 2.  What I find interesting is that the Father uses Psalm 2 as an encouragement to Jesus – knowing that Jesus would know the entire psalm, most likely having memorized it as a young man.

It is a psalm that talks about the Messiah’s rejection by “rulers and kings”.  So even as Jesus basks in the Father’s delight, “you are my beloved Son”, there is a foretaste of rejection that is to come.

The psalm also says “Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Thine inheritance”.  It is an interesting phrase juxtaposed to Satan’s offering Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and their glory to Him if He would just fall down and worship Satan.  All those kingdoms/nations had already been promised to the Messiah, all He had to do was ask the Father.  However, all the nations and kingdoms AND the Father’s delight came connected with the package of suffering and rejection.

And after the ecstasy of hearing audibly from God about who He was, that same God (in the form of the Spirit) drives Him into the wilderness to become empty and hungry and tempted.

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